The importance of the crop sector in the regional economic development is well articulated in the SADC Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP 2020-2030) which outlines SADC Member States aspirations to attain a common future. As part of enhancing agricultural sector performance, the SADC developed the Regional Agricultural Policy (RAP 2014) aimed at providing a legally binding instrument for regional cooperation in agriculture and natural resources management. As part of implementing the objectives outlined under the RAP, the crop sector is guided by the Regional Crop Development Programme (RCDP 2019). The RCDP arises from the need to stimulate sustainable agricultural production and productivity, enhance competitiveness, and improve markets and trade of crops and their products. It elaborates the aspirations and the vision of Member States on food and nutrition security. The components of the RCDP are further guided by a number of guidelines and strategies.
The agriculture sector is estimated to contribute between 4% to 27% of Gross Domestic Product of the Region and crop production contribution is estimated at 61 per cent. Crops are the region’s main source of food, employment and income despite many challenges affecting the sector including effects of climate change, rampant land degradation, competing priorities for resources such as rapid population growth and rising urbanization that mount pressure on agriculture to deliver food and raw materials beyond the current crop productivity levels. For the sector to meet the current needs, farmers need better access to inputs, finance, markets, and an enabling policy environment that affords them an opportunity to improve performance of crop production, while making it attractive and competitive.
This Regional Crop Development Programme (RCDP 2019) provides a framework to stimulate and increase crop production, productivity and competitiveness as well as improving market access for crops and their products to realize objectives outlined in the Regional Agricultural Policy (RAP 2014). The RCDP considers dynamics in both regional and international crop sector and agriculture in general to enable alignment. Although the RCDP considers varying agro-ecological zones, it endeavors to promote adherence to principles of sustainable crop production intensification based on agricultural production systems and Good Agricultural Practices (GAP). The RCDP is meant to be a catalyst to enhance implementation of harmonized and area specific interventions to ensure a significant contribution of crop sector in the regional socio-economic growth. It further provides guidance on implementation of harmonized approach on addressing plant health and Phytosanitary issues which are well outlined in the Regional Strategy on Plant Health. The RCDP also recognizes the importance of access and availability of inputs, mechanization and irrigation, adoption of appropriate crop technologies, and post-harvests losses reduction as critical components to ensure a competitive crop sector to support vibrant economies in the Member States. The RCDP recognizes that the agriculture’s performance, requires increased engagement of public and private and investment particularly in areas including research and development, infrastructure development, market and trade conditions, institutional and farm support systems and access to factors of production.
Regional Plant Health
Transboundary plant pests and diseases have continuously added to capacity pressures on national sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) regulatory systems and poses a regular threat to attainment of regional food and nutritional security. Plant pests and diseases do not only affect the productivity levels, food safety and security, but also threaten biological diversity and the status of natural resources which has important consequences for agricultural economic development, especially for developing countries that are major producers and exporters of agricultural and food products. SADC Member States’ efforts to manage transboundary plant pest and diseases is guided by the Regional Strategy on Plant Health (2019). The Strategy strengthen ability of Member States to increase productivity levels in agriculture and improve market access.
The strategy serves as a regional guiding tool for plant health to promote common approach in the management of transboundary pests and diseases for attainment of food and nutritional security and market access. The Strategy also enhances coordination, preparedness and harmonized control interventions. It contributes to implementation of trade obligations enshrined in the World Trade Organization-Sanitary and Phytosanitary (WTO-SPS) Agreement and the SADC SPS Annex to the Trade Protocol. The strategy is further relevant in safeguarding against Invasive Alien Species that pose a serious threat to the region. The Strategy is also complemented by other strategies or guidelines to ensure an effective regional framework for sustainable management of pests and diseases.
In addition to the Regional Strategy on plant Health, there are specific pests and disease management strategies developed to address pests with high impact on both food security and trade. The region has identified five priority plant pests and diseases (Fall army worm, Tuta absoluta, Fruitflies, Lethal Maize Necrosis Diseases (MLND) and Banana Fusarium TR4) due to the impact on both food security and trade. Currently, three strategies have been developed for promoting common approach in the Management of the Fall armyworm (FAW) that was introduced in 2016, Tuta absoluta and fruit flies. The development of strategies for the MLND and Banana Fusarium oxysporm TR4 is ongoing.
Currently available and approved strategies
(i) Regional Strategy for the Management of Fruit Flies;
(ii) Regional Strategy for Management of the Fall Armyworm;
(iii) Regional Strategy for Tuta absoluta Management;
Southern Pesticides Regulators Forum (SAPReF)
The Regional Strategy on Plant Health advocates for implementation ecosystem friendly control methods which embrace the Integrated Pests Management (IPM) principles. In recent years, the region has experienced pest outbreaks and the use of pesticides was inevitable. Southern African Pesticides Regulators Forum (SAPReF) is a regional sub-committee to SADC Plant Protection Technical Committee (SPPTC) mandated to provide technical and policy guidance on the pesticides management. The pesticides considered include insecticides, Herbicides, fungicides as well bio-pesticides and other formulations useful in the management of plant pests and diseases. SAPReF is comprised of heads or representatives of national pesticides regulating authorities or agencies and pesticides registrars. The Committee has been instrumental in facilitating registration of new pesticides in case of new pests/ disease introductions. The Sub-committee was very instrumental in identification of appropriate pesticides when fall armyworm was introduced in the region. The Committee also looks at issues of food safety in the context of market access. The use of pesticides affects levels of pesticides residue in food stuffs and this is critical component of Food safety that can affect market access for agricultural products or commodities.
The region continues to face migrant pests (three types of Locusts (African Migratory, Brown and Locust); Quelea birds; and African armyworm) which are seasonal pests with often significant damages to crops. The region is guided by the Regional Migrant Policy which encourages Member States to continuously undertake monitoring and surveillance to enhance informed and timely control interventions. In recent years, locust prevalence has become a bigger problem. In 2019/20 and 2020/2021 cropping seasons the three types of locust (African Migratory- Locusta migratoria, Brown- Locustana pardalina and Red locusts- Nomadacris septemfasciata) were reported which culminated in SADC launching a regional appeal to contain the spread and promote coordinated approach while also building capacity of Member States to effectively manage the pests.
Promoting access and availability of quality inputs
The common inputs of interest to enhance improved crop sector performance include access to land, water, seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides. Despite the call for access and availability of quality inputs, sub-standards inputs always find way to reach farmers. In an effort to promote common approach in registration of high and known quality seeds, fertilizers and pesticides regional guidelines have been or are being developed. The seed sector is guided by the Harmonised Seed Regulatory System (HSRS). The Pesticides are guided by the Regional Guidelines on Pesticides Management and Risk Reduction. The efforts to develop a regional fertilizer framework are ongoing after the Ministers responsible for Agriculture and Food Security directed the SADC secretariat to finalize development of such a regional tool in consultation with Member States during their meeting held in May, 2021.
The Harmonized Seed Regulatory System (HSRS) was developed with an understanding that agriculture is among the key sectors to realize economic growth and regional integration. The system also recognizes that seed is fundamental to our survival and regional economic prosperity because without seed, there is no agriculture. The HSRS establishes commonly agreed regulatory standards, rules and procedures related to: Seed Variety Release; Seed Certification and Quality Assurance; and Quarantine and Phytosanitary Measures for Seed. In view of the central role that seeds play in increasing agricultural productivity and enhancing food security within the SADC region, SADC Member States resolved to embark on using this tool to achieve its aspirations of a food and nutrition secure region. The Seed Harmonization Regulatory System is an ideal model of promoting regional integration as it reduces lengthy registration processes of new crop varieties and quality of seed is standardized throughout all Member States.
The HSRS is implemented through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which became effective in 2014 after two-thirds majority of Member States signed it. The implementation of the System is coordinated through the SADC Seed Centre that is established through a Charter under the subsidiarity principle. The purpose of the Charter establishing the SADC Seed Centre is to govern co-operation of Member States in the coordination of Seed Certification and Quality Assurance. In addition, SADC has developed the Plant Variety Protection (PVP) Protocol commonly known as Plant Breeders Rights which is intended to acknowledge the achievement of plant breeders and their institutions. It is also an important system to facilitate strategic associations and coordinated technology transfer in the context of public private partnerships (PPP). These rights give plant breeders a limited period of time for exclusive rights to their new varieties. The Charter Establishing the SADC Seed Centre (2017) and Plant Variety Protection (PVP) Protocol (2017) were approved to facilitate full operationalization of the SADC Seed Centre and implementation of the HSRS.
Irrigation and Mechanization
The Region is promoting use of appropriate technologies as an adaption to climate change through implementation of smart agricultural practices. This is done in response to the uncertainties often experienced in weather patterns and the SADC secretariat in collaboration with Member States are developing the Regional irrigation policy framework. The envisaged irrigation policy will recognize the dynamics in the water sector including the new concept of Water, Energy and Food security (WEF) nexus approach to maximize on the water use while considering other pressing water needs. The proposed policy therefore, aims to promote coordinated approach by all water users for either energy generation, agriculture, domestic and industrial purposes.